• 29 Jun 2016 10:01 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)

    The economy is picking up again here in Maine and that is a good thing!  More and more we are seeing Planning Boards becoming active again in the review of subdivisions and site plan type of applications rather than just dealing with long range planning or small home occupation type applications.  

    As the Director of Planning at Southern Maine Planning and Development, I have recognized that there are many changes in both the make-up of the Boards as well as new and energetic planners that want to do the very best they can for the communities they represent.  

    Many of the planners here in Maine have a great deal of exposure to writing—writing grants, writing studies and writing long range reports but planners younger in their career may never have had the opportunity to review a set of plans from a technical perspective.  Planning is in fact a multi-disciplinary field, you do so many different things, and the technical review of plans is but one area of many that we as planners need to focus on.  This is one area that we are not exposed to as we gain our education and in many cases it is trial by fire.

    The technical review of plans is vital to the approval process. You need to be able to look into the eyes of an engineer and decipher what they designed and why. It is so important to get it right on so many fronts. For one, planners need to establish and maintain credibility with the engineering professionals that come before your Boards.  

    The Findings of Fact (Findings) are important to get right in order to make the project airtight for your board regardless of the position they take.  You should not have to rely on the legal team to handle this--you should be able to do it on your own. The biggest thing I hear all the time is the worry for the minutes!  The courts do not care about the minutes, they care about the Findings and the facts of the application because that is the merit on which a Planning Board must make their decision.

    Your Boards need clear direction and leadership on these projects, many of the members are newer and have never seen a development project before of any substance (thanks to 2008-2012).  

    Some of the more technical areas that we as planners need to understand include:

    Stormwater design, from being able to read topography on the plans to understand where the water is being directed and how the site will be designed above grade or below grade, swales etc. It is important to understand how water will be treated on site—the Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) that will be released to an abutting property and what that impact will be. 

    It is important to understand Low Impact Development (LID) standards from a design and replacement factor and is the situation right for LID?  

    Understanding Traffic Impact studies is another area that we need to be able to read and understand.  We need to be capable of translating this information into our Planning Board reports in a way that the Planning Board members understand it, for example, I am dealing with the development of a commercial parking lot and trying to get the Planning Board to grasp the idea that a parking lot in itself is NOT a traffic generator since there is no use on the property generating the need.

    You need to understand surveying to understand property boundary surveys and existing topography.  What does it mean? How do they impact a design? Are the boundaries right or are there issues that the surveyor needs to address? And yes sometimes we even need to play attorney!  We need to grasp the understanding of legal ramifications to certain decisions that we as professionals make and provide to our Planning Boards and we need to understand what and how to discuss the issues with the town’s legal counsel  

    The best ways to seek out a better understanding of these issues and others that you will encounter along the way are to:

    • Take advantage of any seminars dealing with technical review
    • Seek out professionals in the field like myself to speak to and do not be afraid to ask questions
    • Immerse yourself in projects, do not be afraid to ask the questions, challenge the designers and seek out others for advice.

    This process is an ART that must be passed down to new people in the field and I for one am willing to do that! Do not be afraid to reach out for opinions or assistance from those of us that have been in the field for years doing this. 

    --Lee Jay Feldman, Director of Planning, Southern Maine Planning and Development

  • 28 Jun 2016 11:14 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)

    Three alumni communities that have gone through Orton Family Foundations Community Heart & Soul process came together at the Maine Association of Planners Annual Meeting and Conference in Waterville this May.

    The three towns represented—Biddeford, Damariscotta and Gardiner—all participated in the Orton Family Foundation’s community development method. 

    The plenary panel was moderated by Caitlyn Davison, associate, Orton Family Foundation, and included Delilah Poupore, executive director, Heart of Biddeford; Robin Mayer, select board chair, Damariscotta;  Tony Dater, planner, Damariscotta, and Patrick Wright, executive director Gardiner Main Street, Gardiner.

    Community Heart & Soul is a resident-driven approach to community planning that takes 18-24 months to complete. Heart & Soul looks deeply at the makeup of a community, engages residents using out-of-the-box methods, and creates plans that reflect what matters most to the community and get results.

    Panelists shared how engaging residents in ways other than the usual public hearing at city hall, yielded positive results, sometimes unexpected.

    Poupore shared how LearnLocal, a program created by high school teacher Carolyn Gosselin and the Heart & Soul Team, connected students with community members to learn about the history of the former textile mill town. Involving the teens taught them the history of their town, and unexpectedly had the effect of transforming their negative image of the town into ideas for revitalizing downtown again, including preserving the mill history through teen-led tours.

    Gardiner’s Heart & Soul Team focused on activities that were fun and inviting for families, a demographic that often does not turn out for evening public hearings.  Gardiner Heart & Soul’s former project coordinator, Meg Carlson, shared how her team piggybacked on National Night Out events in neighborhoods. The team also created “Good Old-Fashioned Fun Days” which deployed carnival-style games to gather feedback from residents and generate ideas for action.

    Community Conversations and potluck dinners were useful for building relationships and trust, especially among those who do not typically show up for select board and other town meetings, said Mayer. Those early steps set the stage for inclusive engagement later.  

    Watch this video to hear how community participation is a lasting legacy in Damariscotta.

    Dater, Damariscotta’s planner, emphasized that the example set by Heart & Soul for community engagement has created a new way of doing business in town. Public input is encouraged in the planning process, and techniques like keypad polling, a city manager’s newsletter, and thoughtful outreach ensure that a culture of engagement is sustained.

    Heart & Soul projects develop action plans based on what matters most to the community. Members of the panel talked about progress that has been made on implementation of these plans.

    In Biddeford, about 80% of the strategies identified in the 2011 Downtown Master Plan are completed or in progress, Poupore said. She credited the plan’s clear vision with setting the stage for $78 million in downtown investment, including redevelopment of the vacant mill buildings where 100 businesses have located in the past five years. Watch this video to hear more on how Heart & Soul helped to bring about significant economic development in Biddeford.

    Through finding common ground, Damariscotta residents are working on redeveloping the downtown waterfront to mitigate rising sea levels. This was one of the most ambitious strategies identified in the town’s 2010 Heart & Soul Charrette Report.

    Boosting economic development through local foods was a community priority reflected in Gardiner’s community action plan, part of the city’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan. Local government and the private sector have worked together to follow through, including opening the Gardiner Food Co-op & Café, which enlivens downtown and supports local growers and was funded by a mix of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, resident memberships, and private grants. More food-based businesses have opened in Gardiner, most recently a poultry processing facility and an artisan cider brewery and tasting room.

    Wright noted that these businesses chose Gardiner because it has a clear vision that is backed by the community.

    To learn more about Heart & Soul, download the free Community Heart & Soul Field Guide. 

    --Leslie Wright, Communications Associate, Orton Family Foundation

  • 28 Jun 2016 10:59 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)

    As human beings, we construct ideas about the place we live.  These ideas are intertwined with our everyday experiences and our needs.  For small, well-defined places, it is possible to have a conversation about what the places mean and to come to some sort of compromise about how to plan for them.  As the places get larger, there is more and more to imagine at one time.  Our minds must stretch to hold together images and memories and feelings about larger physical areas.  As our focus widens and the area continues to expand, geography and types of development become more diverse; the amount we must imagine and project beyond our immediate experience increases.  When there is a substantial human population in those areas, we can tap the collective knowledge and opinions and energy of the inhabitants to break it down into manageable chunks; to construct ways to think about places that make sense to the locals.

    But what happens if there aren’t many people to participate in the effort?  What about areas that are sparsely inhabited, yet are not public conserved lands?  One of the central challenges of land use planning for very rural areas is how to generate concepts of the place that are rooted in the beliefs, values, and needs of the people who have a direct connection to these places while also recognizing that issues of scale can quickly overwhelm efforts to do so.  Land use planning without the knowledge and wisdom of the people who know the area best is misguided, but so is the assumption that one or a few individuals will have enough knowledge about the issues and resources over a very large area to make a sensible plan.  This is not because they are incapable, it is simply the case that none of us is able to hold in our minds simultaneously diverse problems and sets of information that occur across different scales of distance and time and, without collaboration, integrate them into a meaningful plan. 

    The upshot of this problem of scale is that asking the right questions – at the right time – of the right people – is critically important.  It isn’t fair to ask a question about a vast land area to people who are most familiar with a local setting.  For example, when trying to make plans that adequately consider lynx (which can travel hundreds of miles) or large-scale patterns in the forest products industry, asking the local chamber of commerce to comment in the abstract on such a geographically dispersed problem is likely to result in discomfort for everyone involved.  Yet, the information about the impacts of large-scale problems need to be integrated into the decision making at smaller scales, and the folks who are the experts at the local scale – the people who live and work there – should be given a forum that already uses large-scale information to set the context for meaningful local decision making.

    As an example, planning and zoning to remove barriers to economic development presents different opportunities and challenges depending on the scale at which it is addressed.  This is particularly true in parts of the state that are distant from densely developed areas.  It is a familiar dynamic to see development occur in areas that are separated from existing development centers.  In less rural areas, this often happens when new development centers are located within a few miles of established, and perhaps fading, downtowns.  However, when the scale enlarges and we are talking about the most rural parts of Maine, the distance may be much greater.  The “nearby” existing development center may be a village some 10 or 20 miles distant. 

    In that case, assessing the appropriateness of isolated new development requires an understanding of 1) effects on the immediate area of the proposed development; 2) effects on traffic, services, natural resources, and character of the area that would be affected by the new development – typically along travel routes; and 3) effects on other development or service centers in the region.  Further, for some types of development, stakeholders report that there is a beneficial effect from incentivizing multiple, related businesses to locate in close proximity to encourage synergy of customer base and operations.  In single or neighboring municipalities, there are often economic development planning and comprehensive planning results to rely on for guidance.  However, in very rural areas that have no, or minimal, local government this is less likely.  In some instances, the area of influence of a small village that provides services could be several townships in all directions, with only a few hundred residents in all of that area, and no localized, formal economic development plan or prospective planning product exists or would be feasible to create.  And yet, in a fragile rural economy, decisions about new businesses and other development are critically important.

    In balancing the short- and long-term interests of residents, property owners, and service center communities, as well as the impacts of dispersed development – both positive and negative – on economic development and the natural resource base, it is critical to form accurate pictures of the needs and circumstances of these stakeholders.  No one stakeholder will have sufficient knowledge about the entire area, so the scale of the inquiry must be tailored to their level of knowledge and interest.  Some will wish to comment at the scale of their own property, some for their township or watershed, and some from the perspective of a larger region.  This must be done with limited financial and personnel resources and a limited supply of patience from local individuals who, because of the low population density, are each asked to participate in many volunteer and civic activities.  It is not sufficient to conduct a poll or hold a public meeting, which produce unreliable results in a low-density setting.  We need different tools to obtain an understanding of the picture at multiple scales, including local and regional information about service provision, natural resource impacts, and the desired future character and economic base of the area.

    Recent planning efforts in Washington and Aroostook Counties and elsewhere in rural parts of the state have experimented with a variety of techniques that have been used in other settings, but are being adapted for this purpose.  Focus groups, key-pad polling at regional meetings, mailings, phone and in-person individual interviews, representative stakeholder gatherings, interactive GIS projects, and overhaul of regulations to allow for new regulatory models have all been employed by a variety of planning agencies.  Other techniques, such as short videos designed to stimulate public discussion about land use planning issues, are being considered.  The rural planning community could greatly benefit from an ongoing dialog to learn what worked well and why and to design new and innovative techniques to add to our toolbox. 

    --Samantha Horn-Olsen. Samantha has background in natural resource policy, works in rural planning in Maine and lives in Readfield

  • 28 Jun 2016 10:51 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)
    How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. --Anne Frank

    I grew up in Portland, Maine in a walkable neighborhood. I walked to elementary and junior high school. I walked to the playground and played baseball in the street. As I got older, I rode my bike to get ice cream and I rode the city bus to high school. Who could have imagined that those experiences would be so few and far between in the lives of our children?

    I went in to planning because I fell in love with the idea that change is possible and that one small idea can improve the world. I have seen some things change and improve over the years. We remember that love and learn how to change our world when we go to workshops, conferences, and luncheons with colleagues. We go to reinvigorate our love and increase our knowledge of all that is possible. We go to change our world. At very least, we go to learn from each other.

    As the newly elected Board President, I'd like to thank you for your participation in MAP activities and your support of our organization. By participating in MAP events, you are making valuable contributions towards the depth, quality, and strength of our planning profession. Thank you to Past President Sarah Curran and the MAP Board for all their efforts over the past year. We would not be as successful without all your hard work. Congratulations on a successful 2015!

    The 2016 MAP Annual Meeting and Conference was exceptional! The conference planning team went far above and beyond to provide a fantastic learning experience with an outstanding array of sessions, mobile workshops, and networking events. Six conference tracks were developed to create an exciting environment in which to learn from and be inspired by fellow planners and those involved in community development. The tracks reflected issues relating to urban, rural, and natural environments.

    Our communities are constantly changing and so is our profession. These conferences provide an important opportunity to stay current and maintain cutting edge skills so that you can get the most out of planning and maximize your impact at your workplace and in your communities. In these ever challenging and competitive times, it is imperative to keep our skills up-to-date, relevant, and effective.

    I want to commend the committee for its commitment in bringing us an incredible conference this year! This conference would not have been possible without the dedication and countless volunteer hours. It is always our primary goal to make the annual conference a valued educational and networking event. We recognize that your time is valuable and we worked hard to maximize the worth in what we offer and your investment in the profession. MAP worked tirelessly to bring you a premiere event.

    Following are a few highlights from the event.

    Educational Sessions

    • Comprehensive Planning: Two sessions on comprehensive sparked a vibrant discussion among attendees. Read a recap of the sessions by Jamie Francomano. 
    • Rural Planning: A discussion on the challenges of scale in Maine's most rural places.
    • Community Heart & Soul Reunion Panel: Three Maine towns talk about results from using Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart & Soul model for community planning.

    Conducting business

    • Communications Committee: The Communications Committee is active in consistent updates to the website and continuing issues of Front Page news. This year, the committee increased MAP’s social media presence with more regular activity on Facebook and the creation of a new LinkedIn group.
    • Legislative & Policy Committee (LPC): The legislature was not as active as previous sessions but several bills were followed and when our input was needed it was given.
    • Membership: We learned that the membership is strong and diverse in terms of geography, but could use some diversity in terms of citizen planners and allied professions.
    • Budget: We learned that the budget is tight, but is not wasted. Close to 90% of what we spent in 2015 was to further the goal of education for professional planners.
    • Board:  I want to welcome the new MAP Board. I look forward to working with you to continue to strengthen and build on the successes of the past. WE HEAR YOU. Education and legislation…you would like us to focus attention on review of some of the state laws such as the Growth Management Act, Municipal Subdivision Law, Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act, etc. We will take these suggestions and plan for the action we might take over the next few years. We may even try our hand at creating legislation.

    What’s next…we rededicate ourselves to our profession and our communities. We plan for the future of MAP and what we can dream for our reality. If you would like the Board to do something different, please let us know. The Board will be having a retreat to review all of the progress we have made and decide what we want to do to make all of that effort pay off. We will figure out what we want most and design our services to get there. We are excited to begin a new year for the good of the profession and with it we may even improve our world. 

    Here is to another good year and thank you for the support!

    --Carol Eyerman, AICP, MAP President



  • 28 Jun 2016 10:39 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)
    The Maine Association of Planners is proud to represent planners and others involved in planning across this great state. One of the best contributions we can make to support planning is to connect and support our professional planning community. That is why MAP is excited to launch our new Planner Profiles campaign!

    Maine is a big state and the planning community is a busy bunch. The Planner Profiles campaign gives us a chance to meet each other and learn about our skills, interests, and experiences online.

    Meet Linda Johns, Planning Director for the City of Brewer:


    HOW MANY YEARS IN PLANNING PROFESSION? 

    I have enjoyed 30 years working in the land use and planning profession here in the beautiful state of Maine.

    CURRENT JOB

    I have been the Planning Director (a.k.a. City Planner) for the City of Brewer for the past 15 years. The entire Brewer Planning Department is a one-person shop so I do a little of everything. On good fiscal years, I have the benefit of a part-time assistant.

    TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND

    I moved to Maine my freshman year of college and graduated with a B.S. degree in Forest Management from the University of Maine at Orono. As a newly Maine Licensed Forester, I planned to work on creating a new genetic variety of tree that would grow fast and have fiber superior for Maine’s manufacturing. Unfortunately, International Paper closed their forestry greenhouses months before my graduation and we all know what has now happened with the mills in Maine. As part of my studies at UMO (it will always be “UMO” to me), I was required to take land surveying courses. I accepted a job with Morton and Rose land surveyors and engineers in Limerick. Within my two years there, that firm merged with others to became SMRT and gave me a great learning experience which enabled me to acquire my Maine Professional Land Surveyor license. Wanting to move back to central Maine, I accepted a position at Plisga & Day Land Surveyors in Bangor. I continued to work there for 13 years not only performing all aspects of surveying but also consulting and preparing land use plans and applications. When the previous Brewer City Planner was taken by ambulance from a City Council meeting with a heart attack (no, planning isn’t a stressful job), I was asked to help out. After working both jobs for five months, I was hooked and accepted the full-time, permanent position with Brewer. I work with a great team of departments and enjoy going to work…. most days.

    WHAT LED YOU INTO PLANNING? 

    I have always been an outdoor enthusiast and wanted to do my little part to make the world better. It is exciting and fulfilling to think that what I do can positively impact how development is handled, how people physically get from one point to another, how our elderly live, how our environment is improved, or how parks and trails make people smile. You know, that quality of life thing.

    WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT PLANNING IN MAINE? 

    Planners in Maine often wear several hats, especially municipal planners in smaller communities. In a single day, I could work on transportation issues, the construction of a new building or use, ideas for a new open space, writing ordinance amendments, and meet with a landowner to answer questions. Never boring.

    WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK? 

    Helping landowners, developers, groups, and organizations to design and implement the best product which meets both their needs and the City’s, and benefits all.   I am also fortunate to consult with local law firms and be involved with many regional organizations such as BACTS, Lower Penobscot Watershed Coalition, Heart of the Penobscot, Fields Pond Audubon, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and other local land trusts.

    WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK? 

    I am very fortunate to truly enjoy the work I am doing and wouldn’t change a thing…except perhaps have more bodies in my department.  It seems there is never enough time to get everything done as well as I would like.

    TELL US ABOUT YOUR DREAM PROJECT – WHAT KIND OF PLANNING WORK WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MORE INVOLVED WITH? 

    I’ll tell you about two very different projects. Back in 2006, I initiated the Brewer Land Trust and am its President. With one of the BLT goals being to create more trails, there is a portion of unused rail bed in Brewer that would make an awesome rail trail. I am currently working with Pan Am Railways and Maine DOT in hopes of making this one happen, so keep your fingers crossed. My dream development project would be the creation or reuse of a beautiful building on our Brewer Riverwalk, energy efficient with shops and cafes on the first floor, residential on upper floors, marina docks into the river, and a sense of community not only among its residents, but also with those passing by.

    WHAT IS YOUR NICHE OR MAIN EXPERTISE? 

    People have commented on my creative ways to solve problems. For instance, Brewer was left with several old school sites after building a new consolidated school for grades Pre-K through 8. The community wanted to keep the historic, brick middle school building but it was located in a dense residential area on a very small parcel of land. I ultimately prepared ordinance language which created our first floating zoning district, called Adaptive Reuse. This now allows a landowner to enter into a contract zone agreement if the parcel and project meet the eligibility requirements and the design standards of the floating zone. Happy to say Somerset Place is now a beautiful, elderly housing apartment building where some of the residents previously attended school!  About six months ago, an advertisement on my Facebook page showed a sweatshirt with the saying “City Planner – we solve problems you didn’t know you had in ways you don’t understand”. I think that sums it up nicely. 

  • 17 Feb 2016 10:08 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)

    Bytes 'N Pieces offers updates on the "comings and goings" of planners in Maine. 

    The Town of Wiscasset has hired Benjamin Averill as Town Planner. READ MORE.

    After 6 ½ rewarding years, Sarah Cushman’s consulting contract as Southern Maine Planner for Safe Routes to School ended with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and MaineDOT at the end of January. Sarah and her family have decided to take this opening in her work schedule to do a long-dreamed-of bicycle trip across country (or as far as they get!) starting in April. If you’d like to receive occasional e-mail updates from their trip, please feel free to sign up for those here.

    Regina Leonard is in a new position as Senior Landscape Architect at Milone & MacBroom. 

    The Town of Bucksport has hired local resident Rich Rotella to fill the vacant position of Economic Development Director. READ MORE.

    Jamel Torres started a new job as a Transportation & Land Use Planner for the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission on December 21.



  • 15 Feb 2016 3:54 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)

    The MAP Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) held a kick-off meeting on January 22, 2016, to review the short session, identify 2016 bills of interest (carry overs and introduced bills), and discuss MAP’s legislative agenda for this year.  This was followed by a summary discussion with MAP members during the MAP General Membership Meeting, also held on January 22nd.

    Summary

    Given the short session’s abbreviated timeframe and shorter list of bills, and the anecdotally noted likelihood that not much will get accomplished this year by the legislature, MAP’s LPC identified only a few bills to follow.  If the LPC elects to provide testimony for any bill hearings this session, they will be posted on the MAP website.  MAP’s LPC continues to coordinate with affiliate organizations, including the Maine Municipal Association (MMA), and currently has the NNECAPA Maine Legislative Liaison on the committee (co-chair Jamie Francomano).

    Bills of Interest

    Links are provided below for each bill, where information on bill sponsors, hearing dates, committee status, and the complete bill text can be found.

    LD 193, An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Bicycle and Pedestrian Projects

    Carry Over.  MAP provided testimony on this bill in 2015.  The funds provided by this bond issue, in the amount of $13,871,389, would be used for design and construction of 50 approved bicycle and pedestrian projects currently awaiting funding.  The bill was approved, but is currently sitting with the Appropriations Committees. 

    LD 775, An Act To Streamline Judicial Review of Certain Land Use Decisions

    Carry Over.  MAP provided testimony on this bill in 2015.  This is a bill attempting to “streamline” the judicial process for development projects taken to court in order to “kill” the project.  MEREDA has been the lead organization on this effort.  MAP will continue to track this bill and advocate for an appropriate solution to land use projects being derailed by lawsuits.

    LD 1500, An Act To Protect and Promote Access to Sport Shooting Ranges

    This bill proposes to exempt shooting ranges from amendments to local land use ordinances.  Concerns with the bill are that it interferes with home rule and towns’ rights and capabilities to regulate this land use locally.  MMA staff have expressed a desire for MAP LPC provide comment on this bill at the hearing.

    LD 1543, An Act To Create Stability in the Control of Pesticides

    This bill proposes to exempt agriculture uses and golf courses, from local ordinances otherwise applicable to pesticide storage, distribution and use.  As with LD 1500, this bill is also seen as an unnecessary infringement on local land use control.  MMA has encouraged MAP to provide comment.

    LD 1586, An Act To Implement Recommendations of the Right To Know Advisory Committee Concerning Remote Participation in Public Proceedings

    This bill allows members of a body (e.g. committee) subject to the Freedom of Access Act to participate in meetings of the body through telephonic, video, electronic or other similar means of communication under certain conditions.  However, the bill does not allow members of publicly elected bodies to participate in public proceedings unless physically present; initial concerns with the bill surround this exemption of publicly elected bodies.  MMA has encouraged MAP to provide comment on this bill as well.

    Comprehensive Planning 

    In our January 22nd discussion, it was suggested that our committee follow up directly with GrowSmart Maine to explore last session’s somewhat amorphous initiative intended to reinforce comprehensive planning in the state. Amanda and Jamie will reach out to GrowSmart to discuss and will report back to the LPC on possible next steps.

    LPC Information

    With the light legislative session, the LPC will likely meet via conference call very infrequently. Any member interested in following LPC’s work this year or be included on email updates can contact either of the co-chairs, Amanda Bunker (amanda.j.bunker@gmail.com) or Jamie Francomano (Planner@town.rockport.me.us).


  • 15 Feb 2016 3:50 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)

    Within the past decade, there has been a food revolution occurring within Maine. An increasing number of communities, organizations, and individuals have turned their attention to the importance of local food and are working to strengthen and support local food systems through collaborative efforts and a variety of initiatives. 

    A food system is the path by which food gets from the ocean or field to the consumer, and then waste resources are returned to the soil. Food systems are made up of producers, processors, distributors, waste managers, and supporters such as educators, transporters, and municipal government officials. Food systems are also shaped internally by natural resource availability as well as local attitudes and demands; external factors shaping them include local and federal policy. 

    Mentioned in this article are a handful of the many collaborative initiatives happening in Maine's food system as well as a few of the key challenges we face in reaching a goal of both increasing and broadening access to, and consumption of, local food.

    History

    Maine agriculture is growing. According to the 2012 US Census, between 2007 and 2012, the number of farmers in Maine under the age of 34 grew by almost 40%, far exceeding the 1.5% increase seen for the nation. The number of farms and the amount of land utilized in farming also increased during that time, while these numbers decreased for every state outside of New England. Maine is becoming more invested in local agriculture and is taking steps to return to a time when Maine was the “bread basket of the Northeast” and the majority of food consumed in Maine was produced in Maine. 

    New Initiatives

    Community Food Councils

    Community food councils are one example of the local food systems movement in Maine, and the number of these councils in the state is increasing every year. Food councils tend to be networks comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders involved in aspects of the food system, including food security organizations, food producers, educators, healthcare workers, food processors, economic development groups, and other community members. They apply a systems approach to supporting and strengthening food production and access within a town or region. In their early stages, food councils around Maine have conducted community food scans or assessments, supported efforts to develop farm to school programs, raised awareness about food insecurity, and generally aimed to support programs that address needs within their local food systems and increase connectivity within their local food systems.

    In an effort to coordinate initiatives happening locally, community food councils across Maine have joined together as the Maine Network of Community Food Councils (MNCFC). This network aims to improve local food system work through coordination, collaboration, and resource sharing. MNCFC created the Maine Food Atlas which helps map local food systems by providing food producers, distributors, and food security organizations with a platform on which to describe their organization and show its spatial relationship to other members of the local and statewide food system. 

    Maine Food Strategy

    Working at the statewide level, and in coordination with MNCFC, the Maine Food Strategy is an initiative focused on creating a strong network of diverse stakeholders contributing to Maine’s food system. Input collected from stakeholders involved in the Maine Food Strategy network has led to the development of four goals for Maine’s food system – creating economic development opportunities and building lasting livelihoods, providing healthy food for all Maine people, supporting a healthy Maine environment, and contributing to the vibrant communities that recognize the importance of food production in Maine. The Maine Food Strategy encourages interested stakeholders to become a part of the conversation and the network.

    Increasing Access to Local Food

    Farmer's Markets

    Local foods are becoming more accessible to Maine residents due to a steady increase in the number of farmers’ markets. In 2004, Maine had only 50 farmers’ markets, but by 2015 that number had risen to nearly 150 markets. The number of farmers’ markets accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the program formerly known as food stamps, is also steadily rising as more focus is placed on increasing access to local foods for all of Maine’s residents. Many farmers’ markets are offering incentives to help SNAP beneficiaries stretch their benefits and buy more food. Many markets are involved in Maine Harvest Bucks, a program in which incentives, usually “bonus dollars” or discounts, are provided to SNAP beneficiaries for the purchase of fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. This is being coordinated by the Maine Local Food Access Network

    SNAP acceptance at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) has importance for Maine beyond its impact on expanded food access. This acceptance also strengthens the local economy. Money spent at big-box stores tends to leave the state, but each federal dollar spent at local small businesses, such as farmers’ markets, contributes between $1.70 and $4.00 to the local economy.

    Education

    Increasing the financial accessibility of local foods is not always sufficient for changing purchasing habits, and education must also be a priority in order to increase local food consumption. If an individual does not know what celeriac is or how to cook it, chances are they will not buy it. Maine SNAP-Ed, funded by the USDA and administered by the University of New England in collaboration with the Healthy Maine Partnerships, is an education initiative that has become more prominent in the past five years. The goal of SNAP-Ed is to improve the likelihood that a SNAP beneficiary will have the knowledge to make healthy food choices on a limited budget. SNAP-Ed offers a variety of nutrition curricula designed for all age groups, and recently, a new guide was developed to help SNAP educators provide their programs at farmers’ markets and better incorporate local foods into their lessons.

    Farm to Institution

    Farm to institution efforts are another area in which a revolution is underway. This past year, Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative competitively bid for the University of Maine System’s Food Service Management contract against several global food service providers. During the bidding process Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative challenged their competitors to adopt their goal of 20% local food usage in the first year. Ultimately, the University of Maine system selected Sodexo, an international food service provider, for the contract. While this news is disappointing to those who championed Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative’s effort, at least Sodexo adopted the 20% local food goal for the first year of its contract. Sodexo holds other food service contracts around the state, and their adoption of the 20% local food goal for their contract with the UMaine System has given some groups hope that perhaps Sodexo will eventually incorporate this same goal into all of their contracts.

    Through Maine’s Farm to School network, Maine schools can access resources identifying ways to incorporate lessons about agriculture and local food systems such as the Maine Agriculture in the Classroom into existing curriculum. “The Maine Farm to School Network is working to link schools to local farms so they can incorporate more fresh, Maine grown food into school meals to improve child health, teach food origins, and boost the local economy,” says Assistant Director of Healthy Communities for the Capital Area and Maine Farm to School Network Coordinator Renee Page.  “Municipal officials can support these efforts by looking at ways to increase access to local foods when developing municipal Comprehensive Plans, asking school nutrition directors what support they need to increase the amount of local food they buy, and helping growers overcome barriers to selling to schools.”  The network can also help to develop policies aimed at adding more local foods to a school's meal service program.

    Challenges and Opportunities

    While there are considerable, collaborative efforts focused on local food systems in Maine, we still have a long road ahead to increase Maine’s local food production and consumption. In 2006, only 20% of Maine’s food needs were met by our state’s food production. It is not likely that that number has increased significantly, and there are challenges to gathering data on exactly where that number stands today. Some of the challenges we are still contending with include lack of processing, ineffective distribution channels, loss of infrastructure in our institutions to handle fresh food, and too many Mainers struggling to get enough food of any kind.

    Processing facilities for both meat and produce in most of the state are insufficient and remain an issue for food producers, as well as consumers. Poor roads, lack of other transportation options, and widely dispersed producers make distributing local food challenging and cost ineffective. Many schools, hospitals, colleges, and prisons long ago minimized their kitchen infrastructure so that meals came out of a can. This saved money on food sourcing and saved time, but today, those food service directors who wish to process local food do not have the kitchen tools or staff experience to do so. In addition, Maine continues to have a high rate of food insecurity, ranking third in the nation and first in New England, while simultaneously experiencing cuts to SNAP benefits. Food insecurity is defined as lacking access to enough food to provide necessary nutrition. More work needs to be done to support food security organizations such as food banks and pantries, organizations that tend to see increased numbers of clients served when SNAP benefits are reduced.

    Opportunities for Planners to Support Local Food Efforts

    As planners and consultants, there is a lot that can be done to assist your community or region in supporting local food. Town Comprehensive Plans and ordinances should take into consideration the unique needs of farms, working waterfronts, as well as direct-to-consumer retail opportunities. Trying to keep land open and affordable for producers, having strong, clear ordinances that prevent conflicts between producers and their neighbors such as local ordinances that strengthen state right-to-farm rules, and allowing for farm stands and farmers’ markets, and signs for CSAs, are all important ways to do this. There are, of course, many others ways to support local food efforts. The APA’s A Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning, Maine Farmland Trust’s Cultivating Maine’s Agricultural Future, and the Maine Policy Review, Special Edition: Food are all excellent resources for planners interested in this topic.  Maine has the potential to turn the tables and become a local food systems leader in this nation, but it will require an effort from all of Maine’s residents at every level, from those who produce it to those who consume it.

    --Colleen Fuller, Prevention Specialist at Access Health, a local Healthy Maine Partnership, and member of the Merrymeeting Food Council

    Want to learn more about Maine's food initiatives? Read our past Front Page article on local food hubs. 

    Image credit: Corey Templeton via Flickr Creative Commons https://flic.kr/p/6sdqx2

  • 15 Feb 2016 3:44 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)
    The Maine Association of Planners is proud to represent planners and others involved in planning across this great state. One of the best contributions we can make to support planning is to connect and support our professional planning community. That is why MAP is excited to launch our new Planner Profiles campaign!

    Maine is a big state and the planning community is a busy bunch. The Planner Profiles campaign gives us a chance to meet each other and learn about our skills, interests, and experiences online.

    Meet Theo Holtwijk, Director of Long-Range Planning for the Town of Falmouth:


    HOW MANY YEARS IN PLANNING PROFESSION? 

    I have worked as a planner in Maine for 30 years. Wow, those years flew by! 

    CURRENT JOB

    Director of Long-Range Planning for the Town of Falmouth. Before that I worked for the Towns of Brunswick and Sanford, had my own consulting business, worked for the architecture firm SMRT, and also taught occasionally at USM’s Muskie School, Bates College, and the Maine College of Art.

    TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND

    I grew up in a small town in The Netherlands. Guess that makes me from “away - way away.” I studied in The Netherlands, but also in England, and the United States as an exchange student/Fulbright Scholar. Along the way I picked up two Masters degrees  – one in Urban and Regional Planning, the other in Landscape Architecture.

    WHAT LED YOU INTO PLANNING? 

    I have always been interested how people affect the world. My BA degree was in Human Geography. Urban Planning seemed a logical extension of that - seeking to proactively change the world for the better. I thought early on that a lot of planning in the Netherlands seemed to consist of thick, dry reports that took ages to result in anything tangible and I wanted to have a more immediate and direct impact. So, I decided to study landscape architecture (at UMass Amherst).  

    WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT PLANNING IN MAINE? 

    When interviewing for an internship way back when, official “appointments” were required in Boston before I got through the door, whereas in Portland I could just stop by unannounced with my portfolio in hand and show my work. The atmosphere here seemed more relaxed. I liked that. Secondly, although Maine is several times the size of the Netherlands, it is ultimately still a “small” state where everyone knows each other. I liked that too!

    WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK? 

    Helping people with different perspectives and backgrounds work together to pro-actively create consensus-driven change that improves their lives. Seeing people recognize the importance of the place where they live, work, shop, and recreate, and helping them capture and realize  the full capacity of that.

    WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK? 

    Pro-active change is hard to come by. It is always easier to say “no” or “but…” to something (or to say nothing at all) than to say “yes,” take a chance, and overcome the obstacles to get there. The most challenging aspect is overcoming our own fears, worries, and cautiousness. Be curious! Have appetite!

    TELL US ABOUT YOUR DREAM PROJECT – WHAT KIND OF PLANNING WORK WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MORE INVOLVED WITH? 

    I am interested in understanding people-place relationships. What makes it that a person or group of people, over time, do what they do and end up making something beautiful, interesting, and engaging of a place. What compelled them? How did they go about doing that? What hurdles did they overcome? I try to answer these questions to whatever I am working on. 

    WHAT IS YOUR NICHE OR MAIN EXPERTISE? 

    I am as interested in imagining the future of a place, as I am in the history of that place. Learning the history of the places around us increases our appreciation of them, and, I believe that, increased appreciation will lead us to be better caretakers. I believe that everyday landscapes are as important for our well-being as so-called landmarks or special places. As a result they require as much of our attention as everything else. I believe that understanding and harnessing the different perspectives with which people view and perceive a place is essential to creating better places. I try to bring all these perspective to my day-to-day work.  



  • 15 Feb 2016 3:30 PM | Maine Association of Planners (Administrator)

    Topsham: Back to the Future is a series of public workshops, over eight months, presented by the Topsham Public Library, the Topsham Planning Department and the Topsham Economic & Community Development Department. This is our kick off educational series to begin talking and thinking about the Comprehensive Plan update that we will begin in 2016. 

    The goal of this series is to provide background and information about the community and the challenges we face, so that, together, we can plan for a prosperous, affordable future while preserving our cultural and natural heritage. It is meant to be educational and upbeat. In the five workshops listed below, we have been and continue to review a variety of topics that our community will be considering as we plan for that future. The format of each workshop includes speakers that are recognized in their field of expertise to introduce as well as examine specific topics. The workshops offer the community an opportunity to have an in depth discussion on different community planning themes. The intent of having speakers from outside the community is to gain insight/ knowledge of how similar issues in other communities are being successfully addressed. 

    Building a strong Topsham for the future: Will we be able to afford to live there? Was held in October, featuring Chuck Marohn, the executive director of Strong Towns, and he outlined how incorporating Strong Towns principles in our development and infrastructure policies can help us build a Topsham community that is prosperous, sustainable and affordable--for all of us. 

    The second workshop was held in November: Getting around in Topsham: Stuck in Traffic? Can our roads serve all of us? Our panel talked transportation…that’s ALL transportation including walking! We discussed how to build places that are financially productive, by creating an environment that helps all people move around town more efficiently and with less risk. Speakers included Thomas Errico, TYLIN Traffic Engineer; Mitchell Rasor, Landscape Architect; and Carl Eppich, PACTS. 

    Ringing in the New Year, our third workshop, planned for January, but rescheduled due to weather, will be held in March and is titled Topsham’s historic heritage: Can we build for the future without losing the past? Topsham has a special and unique heritage which is reflected in the historic district in the Lower Village and other features throughout town. The conversation will be about how we can move forward utilizing these special resources to build a unique town for future generations. Speakers will include Scott Hanson, Sutherland Conservation & Consulting; Greg Paxton, Maine Preservation; Jane Lafleur, Friends of Midcoast Maine; Lorain Francis, Maine Development Foundation; and Vanessa Farr, Maine Design Workshop. 

    Topsham’s rural heritage: Can we grow without losing our natural environment, farms & open space? Will be held this month and will discuss the rural landscape that has been pretty well protected - so far. It beckons “Come hear about what more we can do to keep Topsham's farms, waters and forests alive and well.” Speakers are Franklin Burroughs, Bowdoin College; Steve Walker, Maine Coast Heritage Trust; Angela Twitchell, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust; Aram Calhoun, University of Maine; Liz Hertz, Municipal Planning Assistance Program; and Steve Pelletier, Stantec.

    Finally, the series will wrap up in April with Putting it all together: Can we coordinate our varied goals to move forward together? The underlying assumption for the community is “This must be a great town or you wouldn’t live here!” The workshop will focus on “Let’s find out what we can do to keep it great or make it as great as you think it could be!” 

    BUT, what have we learned so far and what are the A-HA moments? 

    The public libraries, whose mission is to serve all sectors of the public can offer a safe space for discussion and civil discourse because of their reputation for balanced and even-handed presentations of information.  

    The interdepartmental partnership, which has been communicated as an expectation by recent managers, ensures a better experience for developers and better results for the Town. This workshop series is one of many examples of how Topsham is establishing interdepartmental partnerships other examples include, 360 degree evaluation of projects - and anticipation of impacts. Additionally, each of the departments involved with Back to the Future offer a plethora of experience and connections which create a richer background for citizens to explore when trying to come up with a view toward the future. The emphasis on and the interest in working together among the professionals is a visual representation of a vision of community that most folks seem to want. Interdepartmental collaboration not only makes a better experience for the public, it is just plain fun! 

    The biggest "aha!" arising from the series is that even complex or controversial concepts get respectful consideration--and often approval--if well presented.  We suspect that information may be given more credibility when presented by an expert from away, rather than by us familiar, local staffers...Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. Thus, far we have had the luck of free experts from Maine who are willing to come and discuss at length their knowledge on particular topics, thereby offering our citizens something to chew on and hopefully expand their knowledge of the various topics. 

    Another “aha!” moment has been from the question/answer portion of the first evening with Chuck Marohn. We have been encouraged by the interest in the topics from those who have shown up, and from the above average number of people attending these discussions (more often than not, just having a community meeting without any controversy associated with it or perceived impact to a neighborhood has had some difficulty drawing a crowd). Normally, we might have 15 people at our workshops or meetings, if something is controversial. We have been more than pleasantly surprised at the larger number of people coming out on a weeknight to listen and participate in the discussions. These discussions have brought about 50 to 80 people out. What we thought was useful in regards to Chuck Marohn was hosting a more intimate follow up session to clarify and expand on the Strong Towns message and how it applies in Topsham. 

    Topsham has done a great job of tying each of these topics together with some common themes (planning matters, identify what is a wise community investment in regards to planning and zoning, etc.) and look forward to the wrap up session to tie all the bits together!

    --Carol Eyerman, AICP, Assistant Planner, Town of Topsham

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